The man was in a wheelchair, parked in the waiting room of the
Emergency Department, as a Stanford Hospital & Clinics musician,
seated nearby, played his guitar. Slowly, the man lifted his head and
spoke in a quiet voice. "You're saving my life," he said.
Two floors up, in a room in the cardiac care unit, a woman sat
in a chair next to her bed, her husband keeping her company in another
chair across the room. A Hospital musician joined them and began to
strum a guitar and sing, "That's All," the 1959 hit that
begins "I can only give you love that lasts forever." The
woman sang along softly. Her husband nodded his head in time to the
music. When the song was over, she turned slightly toward the musician
and smiled. "You made my afternoon," she said.
At the Stanford Cancer Center, Krista Bowman prepared for
her hours-long chemotherapy treatment. A Hospital musician arranged
herself on an upholstered bench facing Bowman. The musician drew her
harp to her shoulder and put her hands to its strings, and out poured
a rippling melody that cast its warmth all around the large treatment
room. Bowman smiled and relaxed back in her chair.
More than an afterthought
Six days a week at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, music is, by
design, an audible and effective element in healing. Within each
month, every part of the Hospital receives a scheduled visit from a
musician. Patients can request a
special visit from a musician, for any reason. They can order
CDs from the Hospital's collection to play in their room. Or, if able,
they can attend the Bing Concert
Series twice weekly concerts in the Hospital's atrium, a central
open space four stories high that is illuminated by a wall composed
entirely of windows. Or they might hear and see a musician playing in
the hallway of their care unit.
In the summer, the sound of music from a concert in an outdoor
patio might drift through the Hospital's buildings. And when patients
and their families arrive for their first visit at the Cancer Center,
live music greets them from a musician playing a baby grand piano,
harp or guitar. The musicians even go across the street to play for
patients in the Hospital-owned apartments that are a transition from
hospital to home. For the Hospital's physicians, nurses and staff, the
music is a means to lessen their stress, too.
"There is something about music that goes around the
intellect and straight to the heart," said Hospital musician
Barbary Grant. "People don't even think about it until the music
starts, and then they realize they're breathing easier. It transforms
their state of mind."
Each year, for more than 15 years, the Hospital has expanded music's
presence as an "important and defining feature of our
Hospital," said Barbara Ralston, Vice President of Guest Services
and International Medicine. With the substantial support of donors
with innovative vision and great generosity, Ralston said, "we
will continue our commitment to music."
The feedback from staff, patients and their families, she added,
"has been huge and positive and reinforced music’s importance and
power in a healing environment."
A universal language beyond words
The Hospital's music program is one of the most robust in the
country, said its director, Greg Kaufman. He organizes the series of
concerts at different locations, manages the program's staff of six
musicians and seeks out ways to fund new events. His long-lived love
and knowledge of music and his own performance experience have
translated into a wide variety of musical choices for patients.
In one month, listeners at the Bing Concert Series might catch jazz,
classical or folk music, new and old, Latin American to Japanese to
Celtic to big band, Tin Pan Alley and Jelly Roll Morton. Kaufman works
hard for programming that represents a full library of music's many
styles. The same variety emerges when Hospital musicians play in their
These musicians always exercise compassionate sensitivity, shaping
their music to a particular patient and circumstance. Harpist and
singer Barbra Telynor may sometimes hum instead of singing the words
of a song. Grant often plays less well-known music because it
impossible to know what kind of memories a popular song might trigger.
Underlying all the music is the idea that patients need do nothing but
listen, and that is what distinguishes music from other elements in a
medical setting, Telynor said. "We come with no agenda, no
needles, no tubes to plug in. And we stay as long as you want."
Over the winter holidays, Kaufman adds an extra program to celebrate
the season. Last year, the Marin Dance Theatre brought more than three
dozen of its youthful dancers to debut a production of the
ballet, Sophie and the Enchanted Toyshop, on a temporary
stage set up in the atrium. More than 200 patients and staff found
places to watch. For an hour, they enjoyed the music of Rossini,
Respighi, Strauss and Saint-Saens that filled the atrium's great space.
Soothing stress, rallying hope
Music as an instrument of healing, in particular the harp, has
existed for several thousand years. The Bible includes a famous story
about David soothing a tense King Saul with his harp playing. Only
recently has science caught up to parse out what goes on in the human
body when it hears music. Research evidence is mounting to support the
positive physical and emotional effects of music.
Dr. Steven D.
Chang believes strongly in addressing the emotional dimension of
illness, especially for his cancer patients. "A lot of these
patients are living day to day," he said. "They're not
worried about a year from now. They live in the moment and music helps
them do that."
As director of the Hospital's Cyberknife
program, which provides computer image-driven radiation treatment for
cancer patients, Chang has instituted a protocol that includes asking
a patient about his or her favorite music. Hearing that music played
during procedures, he said, "takes away the monotony and helps
them relax." When patients have music during their treatment, he
said, they don't need as much anti-anxiety medication. Music, he said,
"plays a large role in helping patients adjust and adapt and work
through their difficult times."
For patients who may have to visit the Hospital repeatedly or stay
for a long time, the chance to hear live music on a regular basis and
get to know the musicians becomes part of their routine. Joe Silva
received weeks of inpatient treatment at Stanford. Once he and his
wife Kristen found out about the Wednesday and Friday Bing Concert
Series, they became regulars. The music, Silva said, evolved into an
important part of his stay.
And Grant has been playing for Bowman in the Cancer Center for
months now, at each of her chemotherapy sessions. Bowman is especially
receptive and appreciative. "I grew up with music and played
music myself," she said. Watching Grant play "gives you
something to do. It's cool to have something else to think about. I
really love the music."
People remember the music they have heard at the Hospital, Telynor
said. "It's something that's quite magical and wonderful. People
recall it and recall the Hospital in a more positive and supportive
way because there's something tender that happened there."